July 14, 2011

Sanctity is Pretty

This morning I was so grateful that it was cool enough to walk to the Poor Clares for Mass. On the way I was thinking about Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, whose feast day we keep today here in the United States.

I was reflecting on the holy pictures and statues I've seen of her. She always appears as a young and pretty American Indian woman. This might seem odd. As I understand it, her face was scarred from the outbreak of smallpox that killed the rest of her family when she was a child. So why is she depicted as pretty and without scars? I suppose it's because holy cards and statues aim to reflect the beauty of a soul. (How some of our sense of sanctity might change as we begin to have more and more photographs of saints!)

So what's the connection between sanctity and prettiness?

In reflecting on this I was reminded of something from my job before I entered the Capuchins. I worked in human services, doing mostly direct care. Our days required a lot of teamwork. Most of my coworkers were women. In examining my conscience one day I realized that I was more helpful and attentive to the coworkers who seemed more attractive. I brought this insight up with my spiritual director, who saw in it an opportunity for a positive work of chastity. He advised me to make a spiritual practice out of trying to let go of seeing my coworkers through my senses of attractiveness or interest--which are largely arbitrary anyway--and try to see them as God sees them, as unique and unrepeatable creations beloved by Him. I should try to reinforce this interior practice by the exterior behavior of trying to treat all of them as if they were interesting and attractive, because that's how God saw them.

It's like the time I did practice confessions with a class of children back when I was a parish priest. I asked for a volunteer, and a bold little boy offered himself. I told him to make up a sin for the sake of the practice.

"I called my sister ugly," he confessed.

"Do you know why that's wrong?" I asked.

He thought for a moment, and then responded brilliantly:

"Because God made her beautiful."

True story. And full of truth too.

But here's the thing. By working to see others as God sees them, as creations passionately beloved for the beauty of their souls, we begin to bend our own sentiments and attractions to the divine will. We ourselves become more clearly the image and likeness of God which we were created to be, and thus become more affable, attractive, interesting, and lovable.

God, after all, is adorable and interesting. Indeed, He is supremely so. So if we want to be attractive and interesting, we should try to become more like Him. That's the sense, I think, in which sanctity is pretty.


James said...

Great meditation, Father. It has, in fact, convicted me (as the Protestants say.) Thus, I'm wondering how this might be enacted concretely. There is a person in my life who whom I really dislike, and the very thought of whom sends me into apoplexy. How can I begin to accept this person as being made in the image and likeness of God? How can I begin to see people in general as God sees them?

Brother Charles said...

For me, (and I'm not saying I succeed at this regularly) I try to watch for the little logismos of the disdain. When it arises I try to 'change the peg' by attempting an interior surrender to the proposition that the person is beloved of God. The more difficult it is to imagine that anyone could love certain people, the greater an act of faith this is.

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